Monthly Archives: September 2009

TOS Crew: Educational Diagnostic Prescriptive Services

I was excited to see the products from Educational Diagnostic Prescriptive Services. As a matter of fact, it was hard to choose from the list of products offered to the TOS Crew. I asked for Write with the Best Volumes 1 and 2, as well as The Complete Career, College, and High School Guide for Homeschoolers. To be honest, I didn’t expect to get all I asked for, but the publisher was very generous and provided all three files.

Dealing with secure files

The folks at EDUDPS are not only generous, but helpful as well. Up front I’m going to tell you the biggest problem I had was the security protection on the files. The files are in PDF format, but enclosed within a password-protected security shell. I couldn’t figure out how to make the password work, but Theodore at EDUDPS sent email instructions that, followed step-by-step, allowed me to open the files. Another potential problem: You could only print out a file twice. If your printer burped or jammed halfway through a print job (which is what my printer’s doing these days), well… However, all you have to do if this happens is contact the publisher to get your print permissions reset.

Edited to add: Months later, I tried to access the files, only to find my permissions had expired. My advice to you: Print immediately and save in a safe place! (The publisher was kind enough to refresh our file permissions when I asked. Great customer service!)

Writing with the Best

The subtitle for the program is “Modeling Writing after Great Works of World Literature” — which is one of the things that attracted me to this method. You see, we’ve found modeling to be very effective in our homeschool, in art as well as in writing. That’s part of the beauty of copywork — copying models of good writing, which together with narration made up the bulk of our “writing” (I guess you could call narration an oral form of composition).

I had a hard time choosing between the two programs, Volume 1 and Volume 2. Looking at their Tables of Contents, I could see that they had some overlap, but there were some basics I wanted to cover, and Volume 1 was aimed at Grades 3-12 (meaning I could use it with all the girls), so I decided to start with Volume 1, designed to take 18 weeks. Together with Volume 2, you have a full year of writing, or you can stretch out the units, going more slowly, and complete Volume 1 in a year’s time.


The book is divided into nine units that build your student’s writing skills cumulatively. You start with descriptive paragraphs (object, place, character), then write a dialogue, and once you’ve had some practice with these, you move on to writing a short story, then a fable, using the skills you’ve already learned. Next you cover writing a friendly letter, and the final two units deal with poetry (simple rhyming verse and then something a little more involved, a ballad or narrative poem).

The lessons are short and practical. It’s clear that this curriculum was honed in real life, by use with real students. I’d say that this would work well for you if you (the homeschool teacher) are comfortable with writing and basic grammar concepts (parts of speech). The lessons use passages from classic works, like Robinson Crusoe, Wind in the Willows, 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, and more. Suggestions for additional passages are included in the supplemental material.


The lessons are well ordered. For each there is a literary passage (reproducible) used as an example and also a background for exercises, such as picking out parts of speech, or discussing writing concepts. Daily objectives are clearly laid out. A typical lesson at our house lasts anywhere from 10-30 minutes.

Helpful supplements

One of the things I love about Writing with the Best is the supplemental material. Both volumes have pages of helps for both teacher and student:

– Three characteristics that make the best writing the best (we found ourselves coming back to this again and again)

– Proofreading checklist (reproducible) and answer keys

– Grading Criteria (as well as “Learning Styles Suggestions and Other Ways to Augment the Curriculum” and the introductory “How to use this book”)

– Additional literary passages (as mentioned above)

– Finally, the “How to Write Guide” — which I put into a separate reference binder, as it includes specific instructions for all of the types of writing covered in the course.

In Write with the Best, Volume 2, the lessons cover poetry (free verse), business letter, note-taking, summaries, and outlines, persuasive and expository essays, literary critique and book review, newspaper article, and dramatic monologue. Volume 2 is more advanced, as you can see from the types of writing involved, and aimed at students in Grades 6-12.

Pricing and Ordering

You can order Write with the Best, Volumes 1 and 2 from the publisher’s website. Prices are as follows:

Volume 1:
$19.95  e-book download
$22.45  printed pages (no binder)
$24.95  printed pages in 3-ring binder

Volume 2:
$24.95  e-book download
$27.45  printed pages (no binder)
$29.95  printed pages in 3-ring binder

To read more TOS Crew reviews of EDUDPS products, click here.

Disclaimer: TOS Crew members were allowed to select from a list of products to review, and were given access to downloadable e-books in PDF format. No monetary compensation was involved. Opinions stated here are those of our own family.


TOS Crew: The Complete Career, College, and High School Guide (EDUDPS)

I don’t know about you, but when I started homeschooling, I wasn’t looking at things from a long-term perspective. We started homeschooling, frankly, because it seemed the best thing at the time. We’d tried both public and private schools. Disaster. Homeschooling was a sort of last resort for our eldest, and yet… it worked. Our second and third daughters were born into a home educating family, and have had very limited experience with institutionalized learning. And now… the years of high school and beyond are staring us in the face.

This is where a voice of experience is welcome.

Enter The Complete Career, College, and High School Guide, published by Educational Diagnostic Prescriptive Services. The author, Jill Dixon, is a veteran homeschool mom, educational consultant, as well as national consultant for Home School Legal Defense Association. In other words, a voice of experience.

The Guide is a comprehensive and intensely practical book. You might call it a homeschooler’s course in Career Preparation (until I read the book I wasn’t aware such a course existed, but evidently it’s a required freshman course in some colleges to help students avoid wasting time and money), and as a bonus, completing all the activities in the guide is worth 1/2 credit as a Middle or High School elective.

This Guide really spoke to me because it is not typical of our culture, i.e. it includes a section on courses to pursue in high school if you are preparing for a career as wife and mother. Pardon me a moment while I throw confetti in the air, whoop in delight, and turn handsprings. Okay, virtual handsprings. The Guide is solidly based in Biblical precepts, honoring God and family above career and materialism.

It reminds me of my sessions with a guidance counselor in high school. (How I wish I had listened to him… turns out he was right, in his interpretation of my aptitude test results. But that’s a story for another day.) The Guide‘s 225 pages comprise a wealth of information, as well as forms for working out career choices, college choices (if college is right for your student), and high school course planning forms that will support and prepare your student for those choices.

Your student will begin with four assessments, with the results providing direction in career and educational choices. Planning high school courses is so much easier if you have a target to aim at!

This material dovetails nicely with a message I heard from Josh Harris years ago. He was talking about how “the teenager” is a modern concept, and how so many young people nowadays waste their teen years, playing, drifting aimlessly, instead of preparing for adulthood. His was a message of urgency and purpose: Time is precious! Don’t waste it!

The Complete Career, College, and High School Guide will give your student the tools to take aim at life.

The Guide is available from EDUDPS as an e-book for $34.95, or a soft cover book for $39.95.

Read more TOS Crew reviews of EDUDPS products here.

Disclaimer: TOS Crew members were allowed to select from a list of products to review, and were given access to downloadable e-books in PDF format. No monetary compensation was involved. Opinions stated here are those of our own family.

TOS Crew: Illuminations (Bright Ideas Press) First impressions

I’ve been playing around with the Illuminations Grades 3-8 files for a couple of weeks now (can September be almost over?). I’ve also received access to the high school files, but haven’t been able to make them work yet. The folks at Bright Ideas Press have been very helpful and I’m sure I’ll wrestle that one to the ground today as well.

First Impressions

I was shocked when I started to look through the Illuminations files for grades 3-8. I don’t know where I got the idea that this was merely a language arts supplement to Mystery of History–it’s much, much more than that!

Complete Curriculum Plan

Illuminations is, in fact, a complete curriculum plan, incorporating Bible and science as well as Language Arts (writing, spelling, copywork, grammar) and, of course, history and geography. You can take parts of the program, or adopt the entire plan and your school year is laid out for you, schedule and all.

Did I say “schedule”?

The program includes a 36-week (Monday through Friday) schedule, plus study guides for three books to read over the summer break following your study of Mystery of History, Volume 1.

You don’t necessarily do every subject, every day. The work is spread out through the week. For example, science occurs in the schedule on Monday and Wednesday, but you can adjust the schedule according to your family’s needs. (Some years ago, we participated in a homeschool choir that met on Mondays, necessitating a less crowded academic schedule for that day.) The schedule can serve as a check-off list for assignments, and includes page numbers in resources for at-a-glance planning and use.

Additional resources

Because this is a curriculum plan, if you want to do the whole program you’ll need to round up some more resources, including:

– a grammar program (a couple to choose from)
– a writing program (two choices)
Christian Kids Explore Biology
– English from the Roots Up
– Natural Speller
– The Ultimate Geography and Timeline Guide
– The Young Scholar’s Guide to Humanities
(free with registration)

Lesson plans are included for Christian Kids Explore Biology, English from the Roots Up, Natural Speller, geography, grammar, and writing.

There are also a number of reading books, both read aloud and “on your own”, that you’ll want to obtain for the Full Meal Deal. Illuminations contains reading guides for each of the literature selections, with daily assignments (writing, research and other activities) that help students interact with the reading. (I love the graphic organizers!)

Bonus Materials

Included in the program are copywork pages and several bonus e-books.

I’m out of time for this post (kids are sleeping in, and they shouldn’t be–I’ve heard someone’s snooze alarm go off twice, and now it’s ominously silent), and there’s so much more… for example, the planning pages with the literature list are interactive–you can check off the resources you plan to use, for a handy shopping or library list, or as you use them for a quick record of books read.

There’s a lot more to explore here, and I’ll try to keep you updated.

One piece of advice: If you’re planning on using Illuminations I’d build a little pre-planning and preparation time into the schedule, just to set all the pieces in place before you jump in and get started. It’ll be worth it.

There’s also a Yahoo group available, a virtual support group of homeschoolers who are using the program.

TOS Crew: Studypod Book Holder


I almost didn’t get to write this review. For a funny reason…!

When the Studypod Book Holder arrived at our house, I almost didn’t see it. You see, I opened the package and took out the box and laid it on the table (got interrupted–that never happens to you, does it?) to look at later.

I never saw the box again. You see, somebody (name withheld to protect the Youngest) in passing by saw the picture on the box and got curious. That Somebody opened the box, took out the Studypod, and decided that this was going to be hers. All hers. And nobody else’s.

She must’ve recycled the box (hide the evidence, perhaps?). I’m very glad she came forward when I announced that the Studypod Had Arrived and I Really, Really (Really!) needed to see the thing, to write a review. Otherwise, I’d probably be in trouble with the Powers That Be.

Happily, though, the perpetrator enthusiastically brought out the Studypod from hiding and demonstrated its function. (This kid is my junior engineer, who is known for taking things apart and putting things together, not necessarily the same things. She has an eye for function and good design.)

What is a Studypod? As you can see from the picture, it’s a book stand or book holder, made of sturdy plastic and metal. You can stand it up or lay it flat. It holds a book open to the page you want, and turning pages is easy.

She’d been using the device for several days, by then, and told me how well it worked. You could put a book in it (she showed me) and stand it up on a desk or table, so that the book 1) took up less space, 2) was safe from the occasional spilled beverage, 3) was easy to read at a distance without her glasses (she’s farsighted), 4) stayed open at the page she wanted while she was copying or drawing or typing on the computer. She showed me how easy it was to turn pages, and how sturdy the Studypod is. (Believe me, at our house, “sturdy” is a very good thing!) She also showed me how easily the Studypod can be folded into a compact space.

We began to talk about other possibilities, like using the Studypod to prop a cookbook on the kitchen counter, giving us more counterspace and keeping the cookbook open to the right page. (Youngest is an avid cook.) Studypod will hold books of all sizes, even oversized music or art books–we tried it, propping music up on a table, and it worked. I also pointed out the small netted pocket inside that you could use for pens, pencils, cellphone, keys, etc.

I should have known better. I’ll never get the thing away from her now. If I want a Studypod (and I do!), I’m going to have to buy my own.

The Studypod is available for $19.95 with your choice of three colors (black, pink, and blue). Click on the link to order online, see a video demonstration, or find a store near you. If you’d like black, gray or beige, order the Bookpod (essentially the same product with a different choice of colors). Buy two or more at the discounted price of $16.95 each when you order more than one.

(Believe me, you might just need to buy two or more, especially if you want one for yourself.)

TOS Crew readers can get $5 off with the coupon code TOSBLOG5.

For more TOS Crew reviews of the Studypod, click here.

Free resource: The Piano Student

Just discovered this resource (it was listed at Homeschooling with the Trivium‘s FaceBook). Here’s the description from the site (click on the name to open the site in a new window):

The Piano Student is a free music resource directory for piano students.  You’ll find the best free resources available on the web, including free sheet music, free printable music theory worksheets and games, free composer biographies and worksheets, and a variety of quick reference guides on music history and careers in music.

There’s still time!

The Old Schoolhouse magazine has been offering a $7.95 subscription deal for both print and digital versions, since Labor Day weekend. That’s more than half off!

Originally they were offering 2,000 subscriptions at this special price, but then they extended the offer to another 1,000. I don’t know how many are left, but as of a few moments ago (when I renewed my subscription) they were still accepting orders.

Go to this link for the print version, and this link for the digital version.

Second Tuesday: $2 Zoo Admission

Today is the second Tuesday in September. That means $2 admission and $2 parking at the Oregon Zoo.

If you’re celebrating Not-going-back-to-school Day, the zoo might be a fun and educational place to spend the day!